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Will Smash Bros. Be Nintendo’s Big Step Toward Esports?

Date Posted: March 23, 2018

Is Nintendo ready to dive into the esports scene following the release of its fifth Super Smash Bros. for Switch this year?

Nintendo esports games can make an impact on the competitive scene with titles like Splatoon 2, Arms, and the upcoming Smash Bros. because of its global community of players. But can Nintendo commit to the esports industry like Valve and Blizzard?

Blockages on Nintendo’s Road to Esports

One of the things that stopped Nintendo from fully participating in the esports scene is the mindset of its Japanese developers. Nintendo creators do not want anyone outside of the company to make a profit out of their IPs.

This mindset has led to a massive removal of YouTube videos and livestreams that contain any gameplay or music of Nintendo games. Nintendo even attempted to shut down the Smash Bros. tournament at EVO 2013 because of how the company’s IPs were treated. Fortunately, the major backlash from fans prevented Nintendo from taking out Smash from EVO.

Another reason why Nintendo is hesitant to enter the esports scene is the company’s aim to produce games that are welcoming to any players. Masahiro Sakurai, director of the recent Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, said that creating a Smash Bros. game targeted to competitive players would force him to make the series more complex. As a result, the competitive gaming nature of the title may earn a less favorable response from the title’s original fanbase which will lead to a decline of fans.

Sakurai said in an interview:

“Personally, I feel that if you want to play a fighting game seriously, there are other competitive fighting games that are more suited to that, and people like that could have fun playing those. If you play Smash Brothers seriously as a competitive game, the game itself has no future. If I wanted to, I’m sure I could make a more hardcore Smash Brothers game. I could make the game speed much faster, increase the number of inputs…but then, beginners would no longer be able to play the game. When the game becomes more like a sport, a tool that more strictly rewards the player with more skill, the game tapers off more, like a mountain. Just like how a mountain tapers off into its peak, that area becomes more and more narrow.”

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Growth of the Smash Bros. Esports Scene

New Super Smash Bros. to Arrive on Nintendo SwitchEven without Nintendo’s support, the Super Smash Bros. Melee esports scene grew significantly around the world. Melee is the second iteration of the Smash Bros. series that launched on the Nintendo GameCube. The growth of this title in the competitive scene saw events with prize pools that reached US$50,000. These esports events have an average of 1,500 competitors and more than 200,000 viewers on popular streaming sites.

Smash tournaments are considered a niche market when compared with major esports games like League of Legends (LoL) or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). Smash tournament organizers do not have the luxury of obtaining sponsors as its PC gaming counterparts. In fact, some organizers arrange their payments with loans and profits made from other events.

What helped the Smash Bros. competitive community to grow are major events like Shine and Evo, Super Smash Con, and Genesis. These major gatherings provide many incentives to encourage long-term community members and professional players to keep participating in Smash tournaments.

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Nintendo’s Minor Support to the Esports Scene

Over the years, Nintendo changed its stance on esports by loosening its rights on live streams of its games over the years. The company also supported the Smash tournament on EVO 2014 and sponsored the first Smash community-run event in Apex 2015. In 2016, ESL held the first Splatoon tournament wherein Nintendo Switch consoles were given away to the event winners.

While there is considerable support to the competitive scene of the company’s games, the Japanese game maker is not fully embracing the esports industry. Nintendo is still not looking to market its games to competitive players.

Reggie Fils-Aimé, president and COO of Nintendo of America, said:

“We’ve been in this social competitive space for a long time. Smash Bros. Melee has been a mainstay in the competitive gaming space for a long time. What we’re doing — and our take on his space is we want to encourage the community. We want to enable them to put on tournaments and to have fun and for the players themselves to participate in these types of situations. That’s our view of this space. We don’t see where people need to do big dollar buy-ins to get the team. We’re not believers in sponsoring players and things of that nature. For us, it’s about enabling the community to want to pick up a controller and play the very best they can. Whether that’s in a living room or on a tournament stage, we think that promotes the game and that informs the player on how to play that particular game the best way they can.”

By his statement, Nintendo aims to keep supporting grassroots-leveled smash tournaments and not invest in major leagues as other companies do.

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Future of Nintendo’s Esports Venture

While Nintendo is still hesitant with the competitive scene, recent developments show that the company is not ignoring it. This can be seen with the recent updates to Splatoon 2.

An update to Nintendo’s Splatoon 2 includes three features that are made for competitive gaming. This includes LAN support to ensure a lag-free connection between players. The second feature is a Private Spectator mode that allows two players to view private battles. The third feature is the ability to play Splatoon 2 with a GameCube controller, which is preferred by professional competitors.

Nintendo will host the Splatoon 2 World Championship at E3 in June and can market the game to a wide esports audience with these updates in place. There will be an Open Qualifiers event on April 21 for the upcoming E3 tournament.

Another key step for Nintendo to enter the esports scene will likely be Smash Bros. because of its huge community. If the new iteration includes the three new features in Splatoon 2, the latest Super Smash Bros. Switch could be the big step Nintendo needs to break into the esports industry as Valve, Blizzard, and Riot Games have done. Nintendo will reveal more details of the game at E3 and will host a Smash Bros. for Switch tournament at the same time.

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